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Plums and Prunes

Records in 1973

By Jeff Magalif

The "hot 100" column in each issue of the weekly magazine Billboard lists in order the top 100 "singles" (45-rpm records), based on U.S. retail and jukebox sales and radio play. Last year 105 different singles were so hot that they broke into the top ten of the hot 100 for at least one week.

These 105 songs dominated the airwaves in 1973. (Most grew stale during their peaks of popularity due to overkill by AM radio stations. Why is a record worth hearing ten times a day in April, and not at all a couple of months later?) From them I have selected ten "plums" worth remembering and ten "prunes" best forgotten.

Ten Plums

First the plums in order:

1. BOOGIE WOOGIE BUGLE BOY, Bette Midler. Song of the year. Peaked on the Billboard chart in July at number eight. Midler came into her own here after her offensive recording of a slow "Do You Want to Dance?" Dynamic, good-time sound; harmony by overdubbing her own voice. Joni Mitchell's current single, "Raised on Robbery," is in the same style.

2. COULD IT BE I'M FALLING IN LOVE, Spinners. Number four in March. Excellent arrangement, instrumentation and vocals.

3. KILLING ME SOFTLY WITH HIS SONG, Roberta Flack. Number one for five weeks in February and March--longer than any other record in '73. Fine vocal, with haunting echoes. Much more melodious than Flack's other big success, "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face."

4. RIGHT PLACE, WRONG TIME, Doctor John. Nine in June. "I done hit the right vein, but it must have been the wrong arm." Great rhythm from this laid-back New Orleans musician. Album with same title also is a winner.

5. TROUBLE MAN, Marvin Gaye. Seven in February. From Gaye's excellent score for movie of the same name. Troubled atmosphere comes across. Gaye has regressed since his "Trouble Man" success, putting out the trashy single and album "Let's Get It On": "Ain't gonna push, push you baby, so come on, come on, come on, come on, come on darlin', stop beatin' 'round the bush."

6. LONG TRAIN RUNNING, Doobie Brothers, Eight in June. Relentless rhythm, typical for the Doobies.

7. SUPERSTITION, Stevie Wonder. Number one in January. Neat chord changes, good use of moog.

8. YOU OUGHT TO BE WITH ME, Al Green. Ten in January. Green is a magician of sound, a brilliantly original songwriter and vocalist. His songs are fluid rather than traditionally structured; the 1972 hit, "Still in Love with You," was his best.

9. MY MARIA, B.W. Stevenson. Nine in September. "Just my thoughts about you bring back my peace of mind." Good melody.

10. LOVE TRAIN, O'Jays. Number one in March. "'Cause if you miss it I feel sorry, sorry for you." Like the Doobies' "Long Train Running," it never stops moving. But it's somewhat monotonous.

Ten Prunes

Competition was much stiffer for the ten worst of the year's biggies. Many bad songs with no redeeming features had to be omitted from the list. But I hope a few of your own prunes made my list, which is organized chronologically rather than by degree of rottenness:

1. CLAIR, Gilbert O'Sullivan. Billboard's number two in January. Singsongy. A joke that isn't funny: Clair turns out to be a little girl, as in Johnny Rivers's "Memphis." Far below the level of O'Sullivan's "Alone Again Naturally," which preceded this song, and "Get Down," which followed it.

2. LAST SONG, Edward Bear. Three in March. Poor excuse for a melody, with matching vocal.

3. THE CISCO KID, War. Two in April and May. Chainsaw effect.

4. MY LOVE, Paul McCartney and Wings. Number one for four weeks in July. McCartney is enjoying his second childhood more than I am.

5. LIVE AND LET DIE, Wings. Two in August. Even worse than "My Love." The Beatles' "Long and Winding Road" was a clue to the saccharine pseudo-melodies McCartney would write after leaving the group.

6. TOUCH ME IN THE MORNING, Diana Ross. Number one in August. No melody, sickening vocal, melodramatic.

7. BROTHER LOUIE, Stories. Prune of the year: an exercise in torture. Number one for two weeks in August and September. "Makes no difference if you're black or white." Insect-like melody.

8. ANGIE, Rolling Stones. Number one in October. Harsh sound, doesn't flow. Easily the Stones' worst ever.

9. THE JOKER, Steve Miller Band. Four in December. "Some people call me Maurice." Simple-minded and ridiculous.

10. SMOKIN' IN THE BOYS' ROOM, Brownsville Station. Nine in December. Teenybop, like Alice Cooper.

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